Tens of thousands of rental units in Baltimore City should be licensed and inspected to ensure renters have safe and healthy living conditions. A recent law aims to make that a reality.
The 11 News I-Team first visited a house on Poplar Terrace in January. It was a mess from the outside in. The porch was falling apart.
“I’m concerned because we go in and out of that door, and if that porch falls, I’m afraid of it hitting one of us and falling on top of one of us,” Delores Williams said.
Williams said six months after she and her husband moved into the rental property, things began to deteriorate. The sink that was glued together soon had a large hole.
“Anytime anyone goes into the bathroom, flushes the toilet or takes a shower, the water leaks from the ceiling,” Williams said.
The water falls right onto the kitchen counters, floor and stove, but the worst of all for Williams, she had no heat over the winter.
“This is the pole that goes to the furnace, but it’s nothing here,” Williams said.
Williams said she asked her landlord about the furnace when she moved in.
“He said it would be here Monday,” Williams said. “(It) never came.”
The city cited the landlords for that and other violations.
“No one should have to live like this,” Williams said.
Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development agrees.
“All dwelling units in Baltimore City are required to be licensed to be rented,” Jason Hessler, deputy commissioner of Baltimore City Housing, said.
That’s according to a law that went on the books last summer. What’s new is one- and two-family dwellings come under the law, which is 50 percent of the city’s housing stock.
“We’re looking at 68,000 rental units that should be licensed,” Hessler said.
The property must be inspected by a licensed, city-registered home inspector and meet basic safety and maintenance requirements. The deadline was Jan. 1, and so far, two-thirds of the rentals are either in compliance or in the process. The city said one third have not shown any attempt to register.
“For those that ignore it, the citation for operating without a license is a $1,000 a day, so it’s a pretty stiff fine,” Hessler said.
If a landlord is caught operating without a license, a lien will be put on the property. The Public Justice Center worked with the city on the law. Attorney Zafar Shah said it’s a shift away from a complaint-driven system that has to be initiated by tenants.
“(Tenants) can be easily intimidated or led astray in knowing how to assert their rights, to a system that is proactive and requires a landlord to take steps before they even put a property on the marketplace,” Shah said.
Shah said the compliance rules give the law teeth.
“Without a license to rent the property, the landlord cannot charge or collect rent. So tenants need to know that right and know that they can stop paying the rent if the property isn’t licensed,” Shah said.
The city said the Williams’ rental on Poplar Terrace is not licensed, but it’s not clear if anyone is living there. Williams and her husband moved out recently and said they are much happier in their new place.
The Maryland Multi-Housing Association said it supports the new law because it creates a uniform standard. Here’s a link to more information for landlords’ and tenants’ rights.